Bridget Riley Paintings and Drawings
Rising and Falling Curve with Turquoise, Cerise, Olive and Black, 1974
Gouache and pencil on paper
146 x 51 in.
Signed and dated in pencil lower right, titled lower left in pencil
Rowan Gallery, London (#R1302)
Private Collection, New York (from the above in 1975)
Scolar Fine Art, London (before 2004)
Private Collection, UK (before 2004)
Osborne Samuel, London
Diamond Lil: Lilian Somerville, The Woman Behind the Post-War British Art Boom, by Judith LeGrove, Published by Osborne Samuel, 2022, p. 130 (includes text contributed by Bridget Riley)
The curve form was a fundamental part of Bridget Riley’s work since the early 1960s. They were incorporated into several of her most significant achievements during the first full decade of her career, when black emulsion predominated in her work: Current, 1964 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), Arrest 2, 1965 (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri) and Exposure, 1966 (Linda and William Hermann Collection, Dallas) are three extremely fine examples. In all these paintings the curve is employed in different ways and with varying rhythms, or ‘change of pace’ as Riley herself described. When considering Rising and Falling Curve with Turquoise, Cerise, Olive and Black (1974) with its long, slow curves it is with Arrest 2 that the closest affinity can be found. Taking the colour element aside, the paintings which are vertical in structure integrate softly undulating curves which never meet, thus creating space between them which allows the compositions to breathe. The units themselves change in width as the eye is drawn both upwards and downwards (Rising and Falling) through the image, to create a destabilising, asymmetrical effect, enhancing their expressive character.
In conversation with Paul Moorhouse, when asked, ‘What is distinctive about the curve as a formal element?’ Bridget Riley explained, ‘Well, in my case the curve is very much a “made” thing. You could say that a square has a great many cultural references. A square is a man-made shape – a very basic one – and as a result very familiar. It must go back to the time when man began to make something, plan something or construct something, but the curve is not defined…It gives me exceptional freedom. Its range is wider and bigger; it can still be a curve when it is doing really quite surprising things’. 1
Whilst tonal gradations were introduced by Riley to her Arrest 2 painting, softening the stark contrasting elements of her pure black and white works, it was not until 1967, with Cataract 2, that the use of colour became a staple in her fields of curves. Speaking further with Paul Moorhouse, Riley noted, ‘I knew that colour was one of my goals. But it is very complex, very difficult and, pictorially, a great challenge. This was clearly realised from the early days of Modern Art. Colour has always posed a great challenge, but I also knew that you had to stalk this particular quarry with great care.’ 2
This ‘great care’ is much in evidence with Rising and Falling Curve with Turquoise, Cerise, Olive and Black where Riley juxtaposes a perfect harmony of warm colours, typical of her palette choice during the mid-1970s. The pink, blue and green are punctuated at intervals by four twisting lines of black which serve to accentuate the depth of the image. It is these elements especially which Riley linked to movement in a standing human figure, and in particular their sensuality. Yet in parallel with this, the feelings and emotions evoked by certain colours being conjoined was of paramount importance to the artist, and with Rising and Falling Curve with Turquoise, Cerise, Olive and Black these are very much ones of joy and warmth.
Ultimately, Riley found the curve both a successful and fulfilling motif. It would play a pivotal role in her work from 1974-80, after which vertical stripes came to the fore. Curves then re-surfaced in the late 1990s, and asked whether she was surprised to see them back, her succinct reply speaks volumes, ‘Well, not really. I was very happy because I had missed them for so long! And also, especially as I got going, a whole range of possibilities opened itself to me. The interaction of colours and curves seemed boundless.’ 3.
1.Bridget Riley in conversation with Paul Moorhouse, cited in Bridget Riley, The Curve Paintings 1961-2014, Ridinghouse in association with De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, 2015, (pp.43&47)
2. op.cit. p.47
3. op.cit. p.51
Egyptian Stripes (Revision of 7th April), 1984
Pencil and gouache on grid paper
70.31 x 60.3 cm.
Signed in pencil lower right
Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London
Private Collection, UK